Tuesday, July 25, 2006

Commentary: Sotir: Books vs Computers: Where Do You Stand?

Quotes are from an article reprinted from the Houston Chronicle by
July 25, 2006 - Vol. 5, Issue 30

AUSTIN - Funds set aside since 1876 for school textbooks cannot be used to purchase laptops or other computer hardware, the state attorney general ruled Tuesday.
Greg Abbott's decision is expected to impact debate in the Legislature, where some lawmakers want to shift funding from books to technology.
Funds designated for textbooks "must be used exclusively for the purpose of conveying information, including curriculum content, to students," Abbott said.
The opinion was requested by Geraldine "Tincy" Miller, who chairs the State Board of Education. The 15-member elected board manages a $20 billion fund comprising oil and gas royalties, which generates about $800 million a year for textbooks and other instructional materials.
"I'm absolutely delighted in the answer to the question that we asked," said Miller, R-Dallas. "I think it once and for all defines that instructional content material is a textbook or software. It is not a device, a piece of equipment or hardware."

My first reaction was, well, shock when I read the article. As an educational technologist, I work constantly to develop a better synergy between technology and traditional curriculum. How dare they ignore the value of technology in today's society?? Once I calmed down, I re-read the article, and softened my opinion, somewhat. I happen to agree with the idea that money should be spent on content. Without content, technology is useless. There are the techno-horror stories of schools that received grant money to develop incredible computer labs, with all the newest hardware. Unfortunately, they did not take into account the fact that the grant would not cover software, so the state of the art computers became state of the dust. What a waste of money.

And more to the point, for years my mantra has been that technology is just a tool, much like writing on a board. Just having a board is no advantage, unless it is used and used correctly. I've seen instructors go an entire year without ever needing to have their boards cleaned. However, we've moved from blackboards to white boards to smart boards. The boards of the future may be virtual, but they will still convey shared information. The very nature of technology is change, and education must change as well.

The problem I have with Texas, is that I sorely want to mess with them. What Texas seems to be missing, is that all forms of learning are needed to deal with the wired students that populate their classrooms. I would never advocate eliminating texts, any more than I would advocate eliminating teachers. I do, however, advocate teaching the tools necessary to engage meaningfully in society.

Miller said she hopes the Legislature will increase the technology allotment using funds other than the Permanent School Fund.She said the forefathers of Texas wanted students to have books they could take home and that the whole family could read. "Nothing is more precious than a book," she said.

So if what Texas is saying is that books are needed along with computers, I can't disagree. I doubt the scene of the family sitting together and reading a math textbook together in front of the fireplace exists, but nonetheless, there is a place in the world for books. What I would like to see is the book money be spent on developing the libraries so that the joy of reading would grow. The Internet gives specific information needed to answer a question. Books expand on that information, and round out the thought process. People should read for enjoyment and knowledge and that does have a place in our tech based society. It's not an either/or situation.

I'd want to see adequate money allocated for technology, not just for hardware but for training and encouraging instructors to develop new ways of teaching their students. Leave the actual texts online, where pertinent portions could be downloaded just in time (JIT). The textbook information would be current and up to date. Expenses would be about the same, but outdated texts would not inundate the landfills, and students would not need chiropractors. Come on Texas, think through the process. Know your end goal, and know your audience. Today's world is different, and you need to challenge your educational institutions to move forward as well. Use the tools that technology provides. And instead of the debate being hashed out in the Legislature alone, include the classroom instructors and the students and yes, even the tech companies. They know what can be done, and how to do it effectively. Engage in meaningful conversation if what you want is a robust educational system. Don't just think outside of the box. Reinvent the box.

Monday, July 24, 2006

Informational: Wikis


Summary: Understand how wikis are being used in academic, professional, and personal contexts. Contribute texts to different wiki applications. Understand how wikis enable people to collaborate online with minimal knowledge of HTML authoring conventions or web authoring tools.

Informational: Wikis: For Teachers New to Wikis


This is a great Website if you are new to Wikis and need some basic information on them, and how to use them in the classroom.

Informational: Wikis Challenging the Textbook Industry

By Daniel Terdiman Staff Writer, CNET News.com
Published: September 28, 2005, 4:00 AM PDT

As I wrote in my commentary above (Books vs Computers, Where Do You Stand?) , there are other and better ways of getting texts into the hands of students. Many publishers are selling subscriptions to their texts. For a fee, students have access to a text for a specified time frame. Chapters can be read online or printed out, as needed. Advantages include having up to date texts available, and updates can be done at any time. Did a country change its name? Has a new leader been elected? Publishers can update their product immediately.

The link attached to this post is an article by Daniel Terdiman from CNET News entitled Wikibooks Takes On Textbook Industry. "A project called Wikibooks aims to create an open-ended curriculum that would offer a free and freely licensable alternative to traditional textbooks."
"The hope is that by turning the Wikibooks keys over to a worldwide community of writers and editors, the project will eventually contain tens of thousands of books and smaller entries on a wide range of topics. In each case, the idea is that any Wikibooks reader could create his or her own book or make edits to an existing title.
Wales explained that the Wikibooks authors--whom he calls "volunteers"--are professionals from many fields, college and graduate students and professors. "All sorts of geeky people, basically," he said.
Today, Wikibooks contains 11,426 submissions. The topics covered range from biology to economics in New Zealand. Because the books are digital and open source, any teacher can decide to assign one and simply point students to PDFs they can print. "

Interesting? Yes, but it is too soon to tell the level of success it will have. It's worth reading about though. Check out Wikiversity: http://en.wikibooks.org/wiki/Wikiversity which is a source for Wikibooks. They list as their priorities and goals:

Create and host a range of free learning resources for educational processes, for all age groups in all languages
Form projects to interface with, (ie develop) existing Wikimedia projects (eg. finding sources project for Wikipedia)
Host and foster research based in part on existing resources in Wikiversity and other Wikimedia projects (such as Wikibooks, Wikisource etc.)

However texts are written and distributed in the future, one thing is certain: things are certainly changing. Diplomacy may or may not be the answer for bringing peace to the world. Perhaps technology can help bridge the gap.

Monday, July 10, 2006

General: Blogging Tools and Uses


The above article from Tech Soup (www.techsoup.org) gives a good overview of seven blogging tools, as well as blogging itself. FYI, this blog uses Blogger as the host site.

Another good article on blogging comes from TechLEARNING July 1, 2006 issue (www.techlearning.com): http://www.techlearning.com/story/showArticle.jhtml?articleID=189500884 , (Blogs: Webs of Connected Learning By Miguel Guhlin) This article discusses the use of blogs in an educational setting.

Perspective: CUNY/Borough of Manhattan Community College/H. Robinson

For another perspective on using technology in the classroom, check out the article by Helen M. Robinson (http://www.convergemag.com/story.php?catid=243&storyid=97278) in the July Converge online magazine. Helen is a faculty member at CUNY/Borough of Manhattan Community College and talks about tools and sites that she has found for enhancing faculty and student use of technology in the classroom. Converge is an online magazine from Center for Digital Education, http://www.centerdigitaled.com/.

Thursday, July 06, 2006

Early Childhood Education: Early Learning

Posted on techlearning.com eZine July 2006

PDQ (Professional Development QuickTips)
Free Software for Young Children
Early Learning

Tip:Marianne Wartoft from Uppsala, Sweden has been developing educational shareware programs since 1995. Now these wonderful interactive programs are available as freeware at Marianne Wartoft ab.
Minisebran offers early learning games for 2-6 years olds, including doodle drawing exercises and very simple games to get to know numbers, letters, and the keyboard.
Sephonics includes seven different exercises for practicing English pronounciation and the phonetic alphabet, including a phonetic memory game to relax between the lessons! There are also exercises where you learn to match a sound to a phonetic sign, transcribe from phonetic text to ordinary text, and much more! (British English)
Selingua is a vocabulary training program with six different exercises for practicing vocabulary and verb inflections, including a crossword exercise. Users can also add their own words to the dictionaries, which already have more than 2000 words in each of the following languages: English (both American and British), German, Spanish, French and Swedish.
She offers other freeware for other age groups, and all work on PCs. In order to run Minisebran, you need Windows 2000 or Windows XP. You also need the Microsoft .NET Framework to be installed on your computer, but if you are running Windows XP, it is probably already installed.

General: Consumer Action Website

From techlearning@news.techlearning.com Techlearning.com eZine , July 2006

http://www.consumeraction.gov/ listed by FREE (Federal Resources for Educational Excellence) , a US Government Website listing. Books are available free, and the Website is also in Spanish.

Consumer Action Handbook provides advice and consumer tips on such topics as cars, shopping from home, avoiding consumer and investment fraud, home improvement and financing, and credit cards. Also included are thousands of names, addresses, phone numbers, and web site and e-mail addresses for national consumer organizations, better business bureaus, corporations, trade associations, state and local consumer protection offices, state agencies, military consumer offices, and Federal agencies. (General Services Administration)

Have a consumer question or problem? You’ve come to the right place for help. All of the information available in the Consumer Action Handbook is available right here online. Here are few pointers...
Check out the Consumer Topics to get helpful tips on specific consumer issues, like buying a car or home or preventing identity theft.
Use the Resource Directory to contact a specific company or your local consumer protection office or BBB.
If you’re a teacher, a member of the military or the media, or a person with disabilities, try our Specific Audiences tab.
Also very handy is a sample complaint letter.
If you still haven’t found what you need, try Want More Help for links to other useful websites.